US lawyer to face charges of genocide denial in Rwanda

[JURIST] Rwandan Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga said Wednesday that US lawyer and JURIST Forum [website] contributor Peter Erlinder [professional profile; JURIST news archive] will be summoned to face charges of genocide denial in Rwanda. Erlinder, a defense lawyer at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website], contends that it is incorrect to place the blame for the 1994 Rwandan genocide [HRW backgrounder; JURIST news archive] on one side. Ngoga made the announcement [CP report] from Arusha, Tanzania, home of the ICTR. Erlinder has made no comment on the statement, but he has previously said that he believes his contact with the US embassy shortly before his detention saved his life. He has also claimed to be on a reported hit list consisting of the opponents of Rwandan President Paul Kagame [official website; BBC profile].

The appeals chamber of the ICTR released a decision [text, PDF; JURIST report] earlier in October that allowed the Rwandan government to pursue charges against Erlinder. In a reversal of a previous statement [JURIST report], the ICTR decided that Erlinder was charged for actions committed outside the scope of his ICTR employment as a defense lawyer. Therefore, the Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations [text, PDF], a treaty to which Rwanda is a party that prevents legal action of any kind against UN employees working in an official capacity, does not apply, and Erlinder is not immune from the prosecution. Rwandan Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama praised the ICTR decision, emphasizing the country's reverence for the immunities treaty and announcing that Rwanda will continue with the prosecution. Erlinder returned to the US in June after spending 21 days in a Rwandan prison following his arrest [JURIST reports] on charges that he denied the genocide. The High Court of Rwanda [GlobaLex backgrounder] a week earlier had released Erlinder on bail due to persisting medical problems from what Rwandan officials say was a suicide attempt [JURIST reports].

 

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